Project titled "Immigrants' integration and the role of a diversity of organisations in achieving sustainable small towns and rural areas"  

Presentation and objectives of the project:


This R+D project is titled “The integration of immigrants and the role of a diversity of organisations in achieving sustainable small towns and rural areas”. From 2010 to 2013, it has been financed by the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Science and Innovation (reference CSO2009-13909) and directed by Dr Ricard Morén-Alegret.

One of the central hypotheses of this research project is the following: the successful integration of the immigrant population in small towns and rural areas is interrelated with economic and social issues, and also environmental issues. In previous migration studies, the first two dimensions have been much more widely recognised than the third and, therefore, this research project has prioritised the study of various environmental issues related with human migration. However, the three aforesaid basic dimensions (social, economic and environmental) are interrelated with each other and have been studied as a whole.

Access to pleasant physical environments is one of the nine basic components of social welfare (e.g. Hoggart, 2004) and participation in environmental organizations and outdoor leisure can provide a healthier complementary education (and can even indirectly help to improve social stability, security and economic dynamism as broader social networks can help to increase upward social mobility). Therefore, among others, one of the key questions of this proposed research project will be the study of factors that enable immigrants to become (or prevent them from becoming) members of these environmental or outdoor leisure associations, or even form their own.

This project has also studied how protected natural areas can encourage the arrival of immigrant populations seeking a better quality of life and/or a change of lifestyle (what are known as ‘quality life migration’ and ‘life style migration’). A local or county setting made up of protected natural areas can be especially attractive, for example, for people looking to retire to an area of high environmental value or impresarios and entrepreneurs looking to set up businesses or invest in sectors related with natural values.

This project has also studied the relations between climate change and migration. For example, it has investigated the perception among key social, economic and environmental actors of the possible future emigration of populations from their current areas of settlement due to a hypothetical worsening of their living conditions due to environmental causes (rise of sea level, increase in extreme meteorological phenomena, etc.).

Previous studies (2002-2009)

This research project is based on previous studies of migration in small towns and rural areas of Spain (SEC2002-01420 and SEJ2006-14857) that have been conducted by the GRM in the UAB’s Department of Geography, financed by the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Science and Innovation and coordinated by Dr Ricard Morén-Alegret.

In order to improve scientific knowledge of some of the under-researched processes referred to earlier, in October 2006 and at the UAB, Ricard Morén-Alegret organised the International Workshop on Foreign Migration into Rural Areas and Small Towns (see

The researchers implicated in this project presented data based on their own studies conducted in different countries of the OCDE at a series of open seminars and then held  meetings to draw up a plan for future collaborations.

As a result of those debates, and the meetings and exchanges of correspondence that followed, a special issue was published of international impact journal Population, Space and Place (vol. 14, nº 6, 2008) on international immigration to rural areas that included contributions from the United Kingdom, Australia, Greece, Portugal and Spain. This edition was co-edited with the Australian professor Dr Graeme Hugo. See: Hugo, G.; Morén-Alegret, R. (2008) “International Migration to Non-Metropolitan Areas of High Income Countries: Editorial Introduction”. Population, Space and Place, 14, 6, 537-552.

Another key previous project was the production of a science documentary titled Iberiana. Procesos de integración de inmigrantesen cinco pequeñas ciudades de la España peninsular (Iberiana. Immigrant integration processes in five small towns in peninsular Spain). The video was made in 2009 and directed by Ricard Morén from the GRM (UAB Department of Geography) as the result of a previous R+D project titled Inmigración extranjera, sentido de lugar e identidad territorial en cinco pequeñas ciudades de españa (Foreign immigration, sense of place and territorial identity in five small Spanish towns – SEJ2006-14857), which was also financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation. “Iberiana” illustrates some general features of what could be a research process in social science, presents recent geographic dynamics in territories on the borderline between urban and rural settings in five Spanish provinces (Alicante, Caceres, Gerona, Huelva and Leon) and also reveals five cases of the successful integration of immigrants explained by five protagonists in their own words. This documentary gives a voice to people living in what are considered to be peripheral areas, and is aimed at social science students and members of the general public with an interest in the dynamics of immigration and integration in Spain.

Main objectives of the R+D project (2010-2013)

The main objectives of this research, which is principally focused on Spain and a comparative international study, are as follows:

1. Identify and learn from the experience of relevant social, economic and environmental organizations in rural areas and small towns, in relation to the arrival of foreign immigration and the environmental challenges existing there, including climate change.

2. Offer a set of instruments that may be useful for achieving sustainable integration policies in the European Union and beyond. In this regard, one of the results of this research is the compilation of practices that could be useful for inspiring regions and towns both in Spain and elsewhere in their quests for sustainability.

3. Study the extent to which environmental organizations, defined in a broad sense as those organizations that are dedicated to caring for the environment (or that are highly related to it), can be useful for achieving both integration and sustainability. In this regard, ways in which protected natural areas can encourage the arrival of immigrant populations in search of a better quality of life and/or a change of lifestyle will also be studied, as well as how these can have a positive impact on the local economy and social life.